At a series of summer retreats with about 1,100 archdiocese clerics in the summer of 1986, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony encouraged any priest with a history of sexual abuse to step forward. Only one man responded.
Father Michael S. Baker admitted in a private meeting with Mahony in December 1986 that he had molested young boys.
“I told Mahony I had a problem,” Baker said during a series of interviews. “He was very solicitous and understanding. I was glad I brought it up.”
When asked about the meeting earlier this year, Mahony said on several occasions that he had no recollection of it. But during a recent interview, the cardinal recalled that the Baker meeting had been “very brief. He said he had been involved with two guys.... He had no last names, and he didn’t know where they were. In fact, I think he said one of them fled to Mexico.”
During the 1970s and 1980s, Baker allegedly molested at least nine boys, documents and interviews show. One man recalled in an interview that Baker abused him every other weekend for nearly a decade in the priest’s room and on overnight trips.
The cardinal declined to alert police at that time, initiate an internal investigation or contact priests and parents at the three parishes where Baker had been assigned. Instead, he sent Baker for evaluation and counseling at a New Mexico treatment center for pedophile priests, before reassigning him to restricted ministry.
“I sat down with him again and said, ‘One single suspicion, one single report and you’re history,’ ” Mahony recalled.
Baker was prohibited from having any contact with minors, required to attend regular counseling sessions and placed under close supervision, according to a contract with the archdiocese. But soon he was given temporary assignments to serve as pastor or administrator at several parishes with elementary schools nearby.
Mahony said Baker should never have been sent to those interim assignments, adding that his vicar for clergy at the time, Monsignor Timothy J. Dyer, had made the decisions to place Baker there.
“Those are temporary things that [Dyer] felt were OK to do,” Mahony said. “I felt, in retrospect, [it was] a terrible thing to do.”
Dyer declined to comment about the Baker case.
Mahony said such interim assignments are not normally brought to his attention. But documents in Baker’s file indicate that Mahony signed off on at least two of the transfers, according to sources familiar with the Baker case
Baker violated the terms of his agreement with Mahony on three separate occasions when he was caught alone with minors, according to archdiocesan sources. In each case, no sexual abuse was found to have taken place. Instead of being dismissed, Baker was permitted to continue serving as a priest.
In May 2000, a Tucson attorney sent a letter of complaint notifying the archdiocese that Baker had continued to molest two Mexican brothers over a period of 15 years until 1999. The 14-page letter says Baker sexually abused the boys on trips to Palm Springs, Arizona and Mexico, as well as in rectories where he stayed in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
“No one at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, including Cardinal Mahony and Vicar Dyer, reported Baker’s sexual abuse of children...to the authorities, to the parents of the abused children...or to any other foreseeable victims,” the attorney, Lynne M. Cadigan, wrote in the letter of complaint.
After receiving the letter, attorneys for the archdiocese and Baker offered to settle quickly and quietly, Cadigan said. The two parties agreed to pay a combined $1.3 million, sources said.
As part of the deal, lawyers for the archdiocese and Baker insisted that all terms of the settlement be kept strictly confidential, Cadigan said.
Mahony confirmed that, after receiving the complaint, no one at the archdiocese reported Baker to authorities. “It was just our expectation that the two brothers had gone to police because they were so angry at him,” he said.
Cadigan said it had been made clear to the victims that the archdiocese and Baker were buying their silence. “There was no way they would pay that kind of money with the expectation that my clients would go to the police or make it public,” Cadigan said.
Baker resigned from the priesthood in December 2000. The following month, Monsignor Richard A. Loomis wrote a note in Baker’s file, saying he had learned that the former priest had acknowledged molesting as many as 10 victims in the 1970s and 1980s, the sources said. Once again, no one alerted authorities.
In late March of this year, the cardinal authorized an archdiocese lawyer to notify police about Baker. Until then, according to a confidential e-mail sent by Sister Judith Ann Murphy, Mahony had been “reluctant” to tell authorities about what officials consider their most embarrassing and egregious case of sexual misconduct by a priest.
“I have to be honest with you,” the cardinal said in an interview. “There is absolutely nothing good about the Baker case. Just absolutely nothing.”